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Making Video Verified Response a Priority

How the alarm system can reduce property crime, improve public and officer safety, and lower insurance premiums

When the owner of a 7,000 sq. ft. RadioShack warehouse in Fort Worth, Texas worried about his space’s security, he decided to install a video-verified alarm system.

He installed the system around 6 p.m. one night and went home. At 7:30 p.m.—just a little less than two hours later—he gets a call that his warehouse has been broken into and robbed. Luckily, the cops caught the perps. The owner breathes easy, relaxes and heads back home. Then he gets another call about four hours later. Another set of burglars tried to rob his warehouse. Police were, yet again, dispatched in time and the perps were arrested.

Had the warehouse owner not installed a video-verified alarm, otherwise known as Priority Response, hundreds of items could have been stolen, with monetary losses amounting to the tens of thousands.

According to Steve Dye, chief of police in Grand Prairie, Texas—a suburb of Dallas—98 percent of burglar alarms are false and within those, there is only a 1 percent apprehension rate. Therefore, police departments don’t make sending cops to alarm scenes a priority. It could take 10 minutes, 15 minutes or even an hour for cops to show up to a traditional alarm. In congested areas such as Los Angeles, the cops may not even show up at all.

With Priority Response, however, cops are dispatched immediately because they have video proof of intruders and consider the case a burglary in progress.

“I think one of the best advancements in law enforcement in my 29-year career has been video,” said Dye, who began supporting Priority Response in 2011. “When I found out about Priority Response, I was very interested. I thought if I could couple video technology with our vast number of alarm responses, I could really do three things: increase officer safety, better deter and apprehend criminals and reduce property loss, which can mitigate insurance premiums for all of us.”

What is Priority Response?

Video-verified alarms have only been on the mainstream market for a handful of years. After they started showing up more frequently a few years ago, law enforcement began to see how unique and beneficial they really were. Officers around the country, such as Dye, decided to get behind Priority Response. Now, his station has a designated email account where security companies can push their live video feeds so that he can dispatch an officer almost immediately.

The wireless, magnetic devices are equipped with motion sensors. In the event that a burglar sets off an alarm, the device begins a video feed that captures the perp on camera. When the security company sees this, they dispatch the local police department, who then sends officers to the site immediately.

According to Jim Hughes, secretary of the North Texas Crime Commission, the speed at which officers are dispatched with video-verified alarms is unparalleled.

“I know a couple of cities that use priority response who say if you’ve got a video alarm, we’re going to treat that different,” said Hughes. “We’re going to treat that as a crime in progress, which means lights and sirens.”

With traditional alarm systems, the apprehension rate is just around 1 percent. And while video-verified alarms haven’t been on the market long enough to collect substantial data, Dye predicts that his apprehension rate in North Texas is at least 25 percent, if not higher. In Detroit Public Schools, cops have seen a 70 percent apprehension rate and in 2012, the Sheriff ’s Department in Los Angeles reported a less than one percent apprehension rate from traditional alarms versus a 19 percent apprehension rate from video-verified alarms.

In addition to a better apprehension rate, time of officer arrival is critical. In Boston, a police response from a traditional alarm elicited a 21 minute arrival time. With Priority Response, the cops showed up in 7:38 minutes. In Salinas, Calif., a typical alarm response resulted in the cops arriving 39:25 minutes later, while a video-verified one resulted in a 2:54 minute arrival time. That’s a difference of more than 35 minutes.

Legislation is also making its way into the Priority Response world. According to a new statute in Georgia, the same priority is given to video-verified alarms, in-progress burglaries, fires and panic alarms.

Hughes points out that traditional alarms create a false sense of security for both homeowners and business owners. “The security ads on TV that say the police are on their way? No they’re not,” he said. “Maybe if you’re there and hit a panic alarm, but if it’s just a traditional alarm, they’re not on their way.”

Dye and Hughes both emphasize the fact that new response to video-verified alarms will not alter the way police officers respond to traditional alarms. Break-ins and burglaries that happen with traditionally-wired systems are still responded to in the same way.

The Benefits

One primary advantage of Priority Response, according to Dye, is officer safety. Instead of going into a building blindly searching for criminals, the cops know who to look for—and where to look for them—before entering the scene.

“On the way to the call, a dispatcher can tell my officers, ‘Hey, it looks like two white males, one wearing a white t-shirt, one wearing a dark t-shirt,’” said Dye. “We can start getting a suspect description, which makes it safer for us. And if they leave prior to our arrival, we know who we’re looking for on the way to the call.”

Hughes, who served as a cop his whole life, agrees with Dye. “Priority Response is great because if the police are going to an alarm and they’re assuming it’s false, that’s dangerous,” he said. “Back in the day, I’d walk around, shake the door, and look around. Someone could’ve been there with a gun. So Priority Response really improves officer safety [because] the cops are on guard when they get there.”

In addition to officer safety, video-verified alarms prevent wrongful arrest. In the event that an employee heads to the office late at night accidentally setting off the alarms, they won’t be unjustly detained by the cops.

Another benefit of video-verified alarms is the ease of legal prosecution. With video proof of the burglary, criminals essentially have no platform on which to defend themselves.

The most important benefit of Priority Response—and perhaps the most apparent—is the apprehension of criminals. “I can tell you, the police officers are very excited about Priority Response because more than anything, they want to help people by catching the bad guys,” Dye said. “So this has been very well received by my police officers.”

The Role of Insurance

Fred Lohmann, the director of field operations for the Southwest region of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, sees the benefits of Priority Response from both the standpoint of a cop and someone who works in the insurance
industry.

“The NICB supports the efforts of priority response,” Lohmann said. “After learning what it was all about, I thought, that’s really a great idea. Having been a law enforcement officer, I knew how frustrating it was to answer false alarm calls, because then you end up busy and trying to catch up and law enforcement likes to do what they do best, which is identifying those that commit crimes and arresting them so that they’re held accountable for their actions.”

Lohmann believes Priority Response can benefit the police staff, insurance companies and general public in a number of different ways. Priority Response means that there will be fewer criminal losses from burglaries and hefts—both home and commercial—which results in fewer offenses, less claims having to be paid and less processing costs; which ultimately means lower insurance costs for everyone.

Though there is not yet enough data to prove that insurance premiums have been lowered, Lohmann believes this will come in the future.

As Hughes and Dye have pointed out, the support for Priority Response in the law enforcement community is
overwhelmingly strong. And according to Lohmann, the same rings true in the insurance industry.

“They recognize that this is beneficial to their policy holders and consumers,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation when you can take all the stakeholders—the alarm industries, the monitoring stations, the installers, law enforcement, the insurance industry—and you put them all together to work toward a common goal.”

Looking to the Future

Though Priority Response has been adopted by various business owners throughout the country, it still has yet to see widespread usage. In fact, out of 96,586 alarms reported by the Los Angeles Sheriff ’s Department in 2012, only 21 were video-verified.

Hughes compares the eventual progression of video-verified alarms into widespread usage to the introduction of Sonitrol audio alarms several decades ago. Cops could listen in and hear what was happening and then report to the scene appropriately.

“[Priority Response] is like the Sonitrol alarm with eyes or on steroids,” he said, adding that he thinks it will spread very quickly.

In a similar fashion, Dye compares the introduction of video-verified alarms to video cameras being installed in squad cars.

“When I started in law enforcement in 1984, there were no cameras,” he said. “Now, almost every department has a video camera in their car and we’re even seeing body cameras on police officers. So we’ve seen the progression of video going from being nonexistent, to being in most police cars, to being worn on the person. I think video alarms will follow the same path.”

And while most of the video-verified alarms used today are seen in commercial locations—for example, restaurants, warehouses and retail stores—some still use them residentially. In fact, Dye is in the process of installing one in his home right now.

Priority Response will start showing up in the residential market within the next few years, once security companies have reached an optimal price point, according to Hughes. “When the alarm companies start pushing it more and the prices come down, that’s when you’ll start seeing it in residences,” he said. “The old alarms, they’ll be like dinosaurs.”

Whether it’s someone in the insurance industry, law enforcement, or the alarm business, they can all agree on one thing: Priority Response has numerous advantages, some of which are still yet to be seen.

“Hopefully, [Priority Response] continues to gain traction and support from the alarm industry, insurance industry and law enforcement,” said Lohmann. “And it will probably be long after I’m retired, but one day when it’s really successful, it’d be nice to sit back and say, ‘I had a part in seeing that good thing happen for this country.’”

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Security Today.

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